By Eric Leuenberger
It's no secret: Shipping is one of the most essential factors in closing ecommerce sales. We know, and it has been proven, that offering free shipping can further boost sales. But step back for a minute and think about how you present your shipping information to your customers. How and when you present it can be as important as the shipping offer itself. Customers want to know how much it is going to cost to ship their order, and you better have the answers easily available for them, or risk losing the sale. Here are ten different best practices to consider when dealing with shipping:
1. Don't Make Customers Login To Get Shipping Rates.
How would you feel if you went shopping on the internet and found that you had to login just to view shipping rates? Not happy, correct? It's not right, and your customers won't go for it. The questions, "How much does shipping cost?," and, "How fast can I get it?," are first in a customer's mind, and to force them to login will cost you prescious sales. Customers should be able to see the cost for shipping on the shopping cart page, and it should be an option on the product pages as well. If you base your prices on the location where the order will be shipped, give people the ability to enter their zip code for a quote. (Notes from MetzyMom are all in italics and follow each practice... Customers do not have to login to see shipping rates at OLA. They do have to login to buy, but not to see shipping rates. I also find that including a more detailed shipping section in the actual listing answers ALL their questions).
2. Include Shipping Info on all Product Pages.
The product info page is one of those places where shipping questions often arise. Customers want to know, "If I add this item to my cart, how much is it going to cost to ship it?". As a result, giving the customers the ability to see shipping times and costs from or on the product pages should be an option. Offering a link to the shipping rates and policies is a good idea, but an even better one is using something like AJAX or a tabbed view, to enable the customer to get their shipping rates without the need to leave the page they are on. (OLA has a shipping tab, but you MUST enter the information or the tab is worthless. If I had a nickel for every time I opened the shipping tab to find it says "See Listing for Information" (and then found none in the listing) or it gave only the bare minimum info, or had nothing on combined shipping, I'd be a rich old woman).
3. Link to Shipping Page from Shopping Cart.
In the shopping cart where customers select the shipping method, be sure to provide more information regarding what they can expect with each option. (since we here at OLA do not have a traditional 'shopping cart', it makes it all the more important to have a shipping policy with all the information within the listing).
4. Don't Try To Make a Lot of Money off Shipping.
Customers are shoppers, and can find shipping rates for similar items on competitor sites very easily. They are often sensive to high shipping prices. Don't attempt to make more money (profit from) by rasing shipping and handling rates. It will backfire on you. (No one, and I mean NO ONE likes a postage cheat. Adding a $1 to cover packaging is fine, but only if you've explained it and what it will cover. Better to put any additional costs in the price of the item than to put it in the shipping).
5. Consider Offering Free Shipping at Level Above Your Average Order Value.
If your average order value is $45, consider offering free shipping at $55, to increase that average value. (This will also lend itself to moving more inventory because customers will order more to get the free shipping, especially when they are close with their original order).
6. Show Delivery Estimates by Region.
On your shipping page, show a map of UPS or FedEx estimated delivery times, based on region. These graphics are often provided by your shipping carriers, and can easily be downloaded and placed on your site. (This is really for those who have their own website in addition to their OLA House, but it does make sense to put estimated delivery times in your listings. This is easily done in a Shipping Policies section on the actual listing).
7. Ship Next Business Day as the Norm.
Ship Express Orders Same Day. Customers want things fast. Even if they purchased three to five day shipping, you need tomake sure you get all orders out the door they next day (that being at least the day after the order arrived). In general, make it a point to process orders within one business day. There is no reason to sit on orders, and doing so increases your chances of the order not arriving on time, which leads to unhappy customers.
For those that choose "1 Day Express,""2 Day Express," etc., shipping methods (if you offer them), consider shipping these orders the same day you get the order in, up to a certain cut-off time. An example of terminology for this type of method might be, "All orders received before 1 pm. EST are shipped the same day." (This is really for Express and Express-type orders only. See Practice #10 for the others).
8. Provide Tracking Numbers.
You should be doing this already, but it needs to be mentioned. A critical time to start building customer relationships is directly after an order. Customers want to know that the order they placed has, in fact, been received, and they want the ability to track that package's progress to their doorstep. As soon as you receive the tracking numbers and shipping information, you should promptly email your customers and relay that tracking info to them. If your system enables it, make the tracking number a link directly to the carrier's website (or your own), which pulls up the delivery schedule for them. It provides an extra layer of usability, and your customers will appreciate this small gesture in the long run. (The USPS Delivery Confirmation Number doesn't always track each step of the way, but sending that number builds confidence and trust between the buyer and the seller, even when it can't actually be tracked every step of the way. That you gave them every bit of information that you could is what matters).
9. Don't Ignore or Point Fingers on Lost Shipments.
If you ship any level of items over the Internet, is is bound to happen at some point. A shipment will get lost in the shuffle. Although it may not be your fault, you need to work with the customer to correct the situation. Don't point fingers. Instead, help solve the problem. If that means reshipping the order, then do it. (I actually look at feedback to see how the seller handles this! It doesn't have to be anyones fault, and usually it isn't... and that is something to keep in mind!).
10. Under Promise, Over Deliver.
Don't try promising something you can't back up. Give yourself a shipping cushion. To avoid unrealistic delivery times, you may want to add one or two (or even three) days' padding on to your delivery times estimates (except for overnight, one and two day options). Companies like Dell and Amazon tend to do this pretty well in most circumstances. They say, "3-5 day shipping," for example, and the package arrives in 2 days. (That says it all. The only thing I'd add is that if you sold it with Media Mail shipping and you see that First Class Parcel is only a few cents more, go ahead and upgrade it. Give your customer better and it's almost a lock that they will be back!).